Unending and violent, the rains refused to break as the long night sky danced with electrical charges hidden behind low-settled clouds. The relentless crackle shook beaded water from the thick undergrowth and reduced perfunctory auspex scans to a blur. Ahead, at the center of the short valley, Sergeant Andrus and his scouts could see the faint glow of lights or fires breaking through the descending canopy.
“Either we’re surrounded or we’ll be doing this the old fashioned way,” Himeon jested with a shrug and tap on the edge of his auspex with his blue gauntlet. Himeon, like the rest of the team, was a veteran scout. They each enjoyed the hunt and relished the challenge of extending deep into enemy territory.
“No doubt both, brother.” It had been weeks since they’d had contact with any of the other scout teams, and what had been a mundane stop-gap measure for a trade route had turned into a full system sweep – but this hadn’t surprised Andrus. This particular band of Eldar pirates had been exceedingly talented at disappearing into the shadows and by now their teams were probably scattered across the better part of the continent. More than once they’d ambushed and then disappeared only to reappear on his flank moments later. They’d been fortunate to only lose Werner in the first ambush; since then they’d come to expect an attack at any moment. After a hurried counter assault in the last skirmish, the xenos had broken with only light casualties and fallen back into the trees. But that had been hours ago, and his team knew another ambush was only a matter of minutes.
“Eyes up. Contact.” It was Adeon; he’d spotted the last ambush too, “Against the tree. One o’clock. Three hundred meters.”
The others in the squad turned, matching Adeon’s stare as they raised their rifles. Werner had been a friend, a confidant and a beacon of the Emperor’s justice – his death was still too fresh and some were still to focused on revenge.
“Hold fire.” Crouching, Andrus rounded a pair of large trees and motioned Julo to setup his heavy bolter at the base of large stump overlooking a dell on their right. Gratis, Mortise and Bannus instinctively took up positions watching their left. While Mort had disappeared beneath his cloak somewhere on point, and Andrus was sure Heckel was in the tallest nearby tree.
“Damn if it isn’t a tall one,” said Adeon. “I didn’t know they grew that tall.”
Andrus raised his scope and allowed his augmetic eye to focus and cycle what little of the refracted light it could find. He immediately adjusted for wind. The Eldar was indeed tall, easily three heads taller than any he’d seen before. Still, having spotted the shape of its sleek alien form through heavy cover was testament to Adeon’s eyes. Andrus controlled his breathing and waited for a break in the thunder. After a series of hair-raising jolts he was sure had arched around the rim of the valley, he let out a barely audible chirp through his lips. Adeon took his shot and dropped the Eldar. Expecting returned fire, the squad tensed and became hyper-alert, but there was no response. Minutes turned into what seemed like hours without movement on either side.
“Bait, Sergeant?” came Mort’s voice at last.
“I’ve never known Eldar to be so callous with their lives, but perhaps. What can you see Heckel?”
“Not much. The rain…” he trailed off from the obvious
“Mort, advance. Bannus support. We’ll cover” Andrus received clicks over his vox in confirmation.
Within minutes Mort called the squad forward. “They’re all dead, Sergeant.”
As the squad broke cover they found the bodies of the Eldar they’d been chasing – or at least most of them. Several had been dragged under brush, where they’d had their armor and weapons removed before being dismembered. Others had been tacked to trees by crude axes and blades adorn with checkered patterns. What armor they still wore looked to have been scraped and scratched, no longer blue but reduced to a pearlescent bone that would have shone bright in the darkness if not for the discolored rain and mud streaking the surface.
“Orks, sir. Should we go back to report this?” asked Gratis. Had he been a novice, Andrus would have chastised him for the comment, but he knew his fellow veteran enough to take it at face value.
“No. We came here to track and eliminate a xenos threat; I don’t see a little more variety changing our mission. We’ll continue toward the lights.”
The base of the valley offered slow progress as it collected the rain like a giant cauldron. The scouts had to wade through mud and several small rivers, and they were forced to change their route numerous times. As if the unthinkable had become possible, the weather had grown fouler and the constant staccato of lightening made it nearly impossible to focus on where they were walking. Sergeant Andrus had been on hundreds of worlds, but he marked this as one of the most unpleasant as he stepped through a the web of some silk-spinning bug and was distracted enough to nearly slip in the mud; barely catching himself on a nearby branch.
“I hate this place,” complained Himeon, “But I hate xenos more.”
“Then let your anger keep you warm and your lips keep you silent. We’re here,” replied Mort, as the first fires began to glow through the trees.
The structure was some sort of old temple in the shape of a boxy head. Great slabs of rock had been positioned into steps leading up to a great open room, or mouth. Orange-lit, square pillars lined the edges of the cavernous space – several marked with the glyphs of Orkish worship and splattered with mud and dung. Metal sheeting and broken beams created a series of squat huts around the inside perimeter of the temple; shrines or maybe storerooms. As they approached, they could see lightening dancing across the roof of the temple like the roots of some great plant reaching upward to drain the sky.
“Fan out and take positions. Julo, up front.” Vox confirmations clicked in Andrus’ ear.
The treeline came to an abrupt stop before the temple, and Andrus raised his scope to gain a better look inside. Under the thick roof, he could see smaller greenskins scraping away at pieces of Eldar armor. They used simple edges to chip away the paint, which they then gathered into pots and buckets. Others, under the supervision of an ork carrying an electrical prod worked feverishly at taunting a pair of plump, red creatures that were more fangs than anything else. They dangled food in front of the beasts, which then drooled into troughs leading away to a small sieve. One of the small greenskins sneezed and unplugged his face into the drain before being jabbed back to work by the larger ork.
At the back of the temple, Andrus could see the source of the lightening and wondered if it could have been the source of all the bad weather. Arms wrapped around a distorted staff of metal and looking like it might collapse at any moment from exhaustion, an ork reached up. With eyes white as a plasma flare, lightening leapt from his fingers and crawled across the ceiling before jumping into the sky. The smaller greenskins around him started at the jolt, some running around without direction for a few paces before returning to whatever they’d been doing.
“Himeon, Gratis, Mort on the beasts. Adeon, Bannus, Heckel on the psycher. The rest pick your targets.”
Before the squad confirmed their readiness, a small hatch opened on the far left, under the sieve. One of the greenskins, a little one and smallest by far, carried out a sloshing bucket of drool. He hauled it grudgingly over to the where the others were collecting paint chips and poured the chips into the sludge. With his arm, he reached in the bucket and stirred the contents a few times before removing his arm – now uniformly blue from shoulder to fingertip. From one of the small shanty huts across the floor emerged three large orks wearing numerous pieces of scrap metal armor and resting massive axes on their broad shoulders. Andrus and his squad watched intently. If more orks were in the huts, target priority should be changed, but they would need to reposition or get closer.
“Heckel, find a tree. Take Mort with you,” ordered Andrus knowing time was crucial and running out before they were spotted. “Julo on the left, be ready to flank when…”
Before Andrus could finish a great bellow roared from one of the huts at the back of the temple. It was so loud it drown out the rain and caused the psycher to jump and spray lightening about the floor from its toes. The three orks at the paint pot began immediately barking orders, as one of them gathered up the paint and disappeared into the back of the temple.
“We’ve been had. Fire,” ordered Andrus with a controlled whisper.
Both of the red beasts toppled over, as well as the ork with the electro-prod. Andrus saw three shots, on target, deflect away from the psycher, who seemed to have recovered instantly from his stupor and was advancing to the front of the temple. A few of the smaller greenskin had gone down, and there were a pair of holes punched in one of the larger ork’s armor, but it apparently hadn’t noticed. The second shots concentrated heavily on the advancing psycher, again to no effect, and dropped the injured ork. By then, Julo had rounded the sieve and began peppering the inside of the temple with heavy bolter fire.
Before Andrus’ squad could get another round of fire off, something began to go wrong. The huts lining the inside of the temple exploded and toppled over under the gaze of the psychic greeenskin. Julo, knocked off-balance and sideways, landed on the upper steps as over a dozen orks came through a newly exposed crack in the wall that had been hidden by the huts. As the last of the huts at the back of the temple fell, the source of the great yell was discovered. A hulking, heavily-armored ork - without question, the leader – stepped out of the shadows of the temple’s inner corner. On its shoulders it carried an odd-looking, heavy device built of scrap antennae and whirling dishes that, based on its scars and shape, was somehow incorporated as an augmetic as well. As it strode forward into the firelight, Andrus saw that most of its skull was mechanical and its right arm ended in a great mechanical claw. Unlike the bosspoles of some of the other orks, his seemed bare - little more than a bend piece of piping.
Recognizing that they didn’t have the firepower to pick off the orks about to swarm over Julo, Andrus drew a frag grenade and started running forward. “Supressing fire! And drop the largest orks first!”
Shots whizzed by Andrus as he advanced and threw the grenade into the tangle of orks. He reached Julo in time to deflect the first swing from an ork with his rifle, then the grenade went off spraying the mass of greenskins with sharp, hot shrapnel. Andrus knew it wouldn’t kill them but it might buy them a spare moment. Julo, on his feet, turned his heavy bolter on the orks at point blank range and began shooting, but to his surprise the explosive rounds were detonating almost as soon as they left the barrel. Andrus heard a couple sniper rounds whiz by again and saw a pair of orks fall as he brought the butt of his gun down onto the nose of the ork he was fighting. He looked up to see the mechanical ork advancing methodically across the temple, and, to Andrus’ right, the psychic greenskin had descended the steps and had the snipers in the underbrush pinned down as lightening spat into the foliage and started fires.
Despite the lack of sunlight and rain, the temple’s area was ablaze. Andrus and Julo locked themselves in hand-to-hand combat with the orks while the rest of the greenskin advanced across open ground with minor consequences. As Andrus dropped another of the orks and stomped on the back of its head, he looked up to see a small radar dish on top of the ork leader’s head emerge and begin to spin. With almost immediate recognition it eyed Andrus and Julo and then began scanning the treeline until picking out the tree Mort and Heckel had climbed. Without hestitation, the giant ork bellowed again and there was a terrible boom. A moment later the tree exploded into fiberous shards and a gigantic wet splatter. Mort and Heckel were gone.
A tank, previously hidden behind the right wall of the temple rumbled around the corner; its armor recently splashed with blue paint; and smoke steaming off its massive turret-mounted cannon. As it turned, smaller guns opened fire on the treeline where the rest of the scout squad was hiding and pinned. Andrus saw some of the smaller greenskins hauling chunks of blue armor out of the brush where Bannus had been.
With renewed anger, Andrus leapt at the nearest ork with his rifle, ducking its swing and breaking its ribs. He then spun around behind it and jammed his gun into the back of the neck, snapping its spine with surgical precision. Julo too was engaged, swinging his heavy weapon up to block horrible swings and then using the weight of the gun to bludgeon his opponents.
They fought with the wrath of the Emperor in their bones, but it was only time until they would be overcome. More orks were arriving every moment, and they were already surrounded.
Julo died first. His mouth opening to a scream that spat lightening as his skin was charred black by the psycher. As Andrus turned to look, he felt the armor torn from his shoulder – too exhausted and numb to realize most of his arm had gone with it. As he spun around he was lifted up by the mechanical ork, the little radar dish on his head transfixed on Andrus. The huge claw latched on to his other shoulder as he was flicked across the steps of the temple. Andrus landed in a bleeding crumple.
Before long, the mechanical ork stood over the Sergeant again, this time leaning low. Andrus, battered and unable to attack, stared the ork in the face. From behind its shoulderguard armor, a small toothy beast leapt up on top of a squat pole on the ork’s back. Andrus noticed, for the first time, a small pot of spittle sat there too. The ork leaned in close and scratched a line across the armor on Andrus’ chest with its fingernail.
“Bloooo… Hur Hur Hur Hur,” Big Mek Rutzig chuckled.
* I consider my Big Mek to be my 'Boss'. Playing Deathskullz means junkin' and lootin' are priority to me and it would make sense that a Big Mek would hold sway if the ladz are building stuff... especially one with a Gargant, Stompa, squadron of fighta-bommers, etc. I wanted to keep the bosspole more symbolic... blue paint being lucky, I decided it was valuable... thus the ork runs off with it right away and the squig pet makes Rutzig his own pot.